The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) is presenting COEX, the annual Chain Operators Exchange, in Orlando. This event will promote lively interaction between chain restaurant trendsetters and suppliers from across the country. COEX will run now until March 3.
Why do you come to COEX?
That was the opening question as old friends, business associates, and newcomers gathered in Orlando for the first day of the conference.
““It’s where I learn the latest trends.”
“The chance to meet people in the industry.”
“It’s just a really good show.”
Those remarks, and more, were heard throughout the afternoon as registrants made their way to the first breakout—designed specifically for small to mid-sized manufacturers. Entitled, “Small Business Menu Tuneup: A Workshop to Fit Your Products into Today’s Menu,” the session used a broad discussion of trends as the starting point for some new thinking around today’s menus.
Nancy Kruse, a noted menu trends analyst, President of The Kruse Company and author of the Kruse Report, presented to the group, which included representatives from some of the nation’s leading restaurant chains. The Food Channel sat down with her, where she identified a few of the leading trends:
1. “Kimchee is easy,” she said, “because Korean is the fastest growing ethnic cuisine. We see it being combined with Mexican in California. Kimchee will be the go-to condiment of the future.”
2. “Comfort foods with a twist—like grilled cheese with brie and lobster. So you have comfort food with the addition of a premium ingredient.”
3. “Minis and sliders don’t show any sign of slowing down,” she said. “It started in the dessert category and moved to the burger category, and now you have Ruby Tuesday offering mini eggs benedict. Every section of the menu is being reconsidered and right-sized.”
4. “There is nothing hotter at the moment than smoking,” she said. “It suggests artisanal, Southern comfort, a more flavorful experience. It’s making chain chefs rethink their barbeque.”
See more of our interview with Nancy Kruse, here.
We also talked with Jeff Warner, National Account Sales Manager with Sartori Food Corp., who pointed out the desire for innovation. “The consumer is becoming more and more educated,” he said. “There is room to address the expanding palate. There’s an interest level that restaurants can take advantage of.” He said the message he took away from today’s session was that, “You can’t get tied down in the value game. You still have to deliver the freshness. We have to deliver to the marketplace the things others aren’t doing.”
David Groll, Corporate Executive Chef for McAlister’s Deli, was a Round-Table Host for today’s session, and said it’s all about “innovation, menu planning, staying relevant, current menu development, and partnering with vendors.”
He said, “We’re dealing with tough economic times. Vendors are stepping up to partner with operators to solve some of our operational concerns and issues. We all have great protein and great breads. The trick is how to execute it well. Here’s where we come to educate each other.”
A feature of the Grand Opening Reception was a presentation by mixologist Juliet Greene, Corporate Chef at Charlie Baggs, Inc.. “There’s a great combination of food and drink happening,” she said. “Trends in the restaurant are tracking with trends at the bar and we’re creating flavors that are strong, fresh and vibrant.”
She offered as an example a “more natural” Ginger Gin drink. “Gin is not everyone’s first choice, but infuse it and use the ginger,” she said, “and people really like it. They are familiar with ginger, but never buy it and never use it. When you combine it with the gin it’s something new.” She pointed to “old school” flavors such as rosemary and elderflower, and to the trend toward people making their own bitters as signs that the cocktail hour is being embraced.
“We’ll continue to go really clean, and stay away from ultra sweet or artificial flavors,” she said. And, she suggested watching for things such as, “Fresh jalapeno-infused vodka to add the strong heat people are leaning toward.”
New trends. Relationships. Information to help build your business.
In other words, welcome to COEX. The Food Channel will be bringing you daily stories, tweets and information via Twitter, Facebook and the Website, so follow along. More tomorrow . . .
See more Photos from COEX on Facebook.
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Event Coverage Sponsored by IFMA